LANHAM, Md. -- Safeway's Eastern division here has launched a program to help address the problem of improper disposal of needles, syringes and sharps.
The program was kicked off Sept. 1, and all 74 of Safeway's area pharmacies are involved.
Safeway had been looking for a way to help its pharmacy patients dispose of used syringes, needles and sharps, said Murhl Flowers, director of pharmacy operations for Safeway's Eastern Division.
"Users had been placing them [sharps] in coffee cans, glass containers, etc., and disposing of them in their household trash," said Flowers. "This resulted in a major problem with an increase in accidental sticks of landfill and waste personnel," putting such employees at risk for acquiring hepatitis or even AIDS, he said.
In Safeway's search for a sharps disposal system, Flowers said the division was approached by Elkridge, Md.-based WMI Medical Services, a medical waste disposal company, and EMS Products International, Silver Springs, Md., a manufacturer of infection-control products.
Subsequently, the three companies developed an arrangement under which EMS supplies Safeway's stores with disposable containers that patients purchase and then return to the pharmacy when full. WMI collects the full containers from the stores and disposes of them.
"Patients stick used syringes, needles, etc., in a pin cushion unit," said Flowers. "When the unit is full, the top is snapped into place and is tamper-proof. The full unit is placed in a paper bag by the patient and given to the pharmacy personnel, who put it into a medical waste bag to be picked up and disposed of according to [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] standards by WMI," he added. Each container holds 10 to 20 items, depending on the sizes.
Reaction from both customers and pharmacists has been positive, Flowers said, although it's been a slow process. "It's been positive so far, but we never thought it was going to set the world on fire, since it is the first product in this area. It is going to take a while for customers to get used to it."
Flowers said the community was being made aware of the unit through the stores' weekly advertising circular, direct-mail marketing pieces, point-of-sale brochures and in-store signs.
The units are kept as close to the service counter as possible, or at least in view from the counter, Flowers said. Some stores keep the units in display cases near the diabetic products, and pharmacists talk about the products when patients bring in prescriptions for diabetes-related medications.
"When I introduced the program at some Safeway meetings, the reaction of the pharmacists was very positive," said Bob Miller, regional representative for EMS. "They said this was something whose time had come."
Miller said EMS was promoting the service through diabetic educator groups, including pharmacists. "People turn to pharmacists for advice. I met with the pharmacy staff when we set the stores up and explained to them how to describe the program to the patients.
"The biggest key in this is the pharmacist-patient relationship," said Miller. "It's important that when patients buy needles, syringes or injectables, the pharmacist talk to them about proper disposal. That alone could give the program a shot in the arm.
"Diabetics are the target market because it is such a large market, but anybody who uses a home injectable is a potential client for this device," Miller said.
Flowers said that because the pin cushion unit is classified as a medical device, some insurance carriers are reimbursing the program.